Target CEO Brian Cornell said retailers’ “negative reaction” to Pride merchandise hurt sales and contributed to disappointing quarterly results the company reported Wednesday.
But Cornell stood by his decisions to both celebrate Pride month and to pull some items off the shelves or move them elsewhere in the store after customer backlash. He said the company saw behavior by some buyers in June that “made our teams feel unsafe at work.”
“Of course we’ve seen some angry guests who have scared our team members, damaged merchandise and defaced some signs,” he said. “Once we took those actions and resolved the situation, of course we saw that everything went back to normal, and we certainly think we made the right moves at that point.”
The backlash against Target, which has rippled across social media in videos and comments, speaks to the tightrope companies must walk as conservative politicians and consumers increasingly vilify corporate diversity and inclusion efforts. Other companies have faced similar boycotts this year. These include AB InBev’s Bud Light, which took a financial hit from its partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, and the subsequent decision not to defend the endorsement. Disney Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also fell on the fence after the company criticized the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
The Supreme Court’s June ruling against affirmative action has also increased the focus on companies’ goals and hiring initiatives.
Cornell told reporters on the call that it will continue its diversity, equity and inclusive hiring initiatives. The effort helps Target better reflect the communities in which it is located, which “adds tremendous value to our shareholders,” he said.
For more than a decade, Target has sold products in June to coincide with Pride month, a celebration of LGBTQ+ people and issues. But this year, the collection evoked a strong response. The backlash has occurred across the country, with politicians passing laws restricting healthcare, bathroom access and more for transgender Americans, setting guidelines for social issues children should study and learn in the classroom, and debating the role of corporations in shaping society. .
After backlash in June, Target pulled some items from its Pride collection, but did not say which items it was pulling or how many stores were affected by the threats and boycotts.
The collection included a wide variety of products, from greeting cards and rainbow-themed cake mixes that read “I’m glad you’re dating” to T-shirts and tote bags that read “Chosen Family is Love.”
It also includes “tuck-friendly” swimsuits that allow trans people who have not had gender-affirming surgeries to hide their private parts, the Associated Press reported. Some critics have falsely claimed that adult-only swimsuits are also available for children. They also objected to other LGBTQ+-themed merchandise for children, such as clothing and books.
This year, it was not the first time that Hadaf had been targeted by conservative groups. The retailer faced another boycott after the company adopted a policy in 2016 that allowed transgender employees and customers to use bathrooms and fitting rooms that match their gender identity. The backlash came after North Carolina and other states passed bathroom laws barring transgender people from using government building bathrooms that match their gender identity.
At the time, Target was also experiencing disappointing sales results, but its spokesperson told reporters that the boycott’s impact on business was “immaterial.”
When Target reported its results Wednesday, executives declined to estimate the financial hit from the Pride merchandise response.
“To be clear, we can’t isolate the price impact from the many other factors at play in the quarter,” Chief Financial Officer Michael Fiddelke said in a call with reporters, pointing to multiple economic factors, including weak sales of discretionary items. due to inflation.
Cornell said Wednesday the company will continue to celebrate Pride month and other heritage months. However, he said Target will also think carefully about timing, presentation and how to work with national brands and foreign partners when putting together its collections.
Some of the merchandise that came under fire was made by vendors that are not part of Target’s own brands.
“At the heart of our purpose is our commitment to bring joy to all the families we serve — and it really is all families — so we want to make sure Target is a happy place for all our guests,” he said. . “It’s a place where they can recharge and enjoy that shopping experience, and you should expect to see us continue to do that for years to come.”